Every now and again, all of the things I love, fight for, and feel strongly about meld into one place—that magical thing happened for me a few weekends ago at a book launch. But it wasn’t just any book launch—it was a cookbook launch. And—it was organized by a women’s health centre. And the recipes in this book were primarily provided by women who were, at one stage, refugees.
The book itself began as a project by Women’s Heath Grampians, which is an organization that “aims to improve women’s equality, health and wellbeing in the Grampians region and beyond.” The project was intended as a means to preserve elements of culture through recipes shared by indigenous, or migrant, or marginalised, or just regular women. Many of the recipes were handed down through generations by watching, then copying the instinctive pinches, dashes and handfuls of ingredients used in the contributors’ family kitchens. These recipes were meticulously measured into cups, teaspoons and weights which were then adapted into western, first-world, English lingo to make it easy for folks like me to make in my own home. Things like Kolac Sa Makom (Serbian Poppyseed cake), Trei Cha Knei (Chinese-Cambodian Ginger Fish), and Baingan Peh Raita (Pakistani Eggplant Dish). And what’s even more delightful is that the majority of the recipes have not previously existed on paper. They are favourite (secret) keepsake family recipes, making the collection all the more personal.
The preservation of culture is an important aspect of this book, as each recipe in this book is preceded by an essay written by the woman who is sharing a part of her life, and her culinary life. Often the stories are of how they were finally about the leave the refugee camps. At the book launch, one well-spoken woman moved me to tears when she read Warsan Shire’s poem, Home (available in full at the Global Citizen website ) and spoke of her own journey as a refugee seeking a permanent place to call home.
To be clear, the book launch was a celebration– not just of the book’s publication, but a celebration of community, sisterhood and survival– because It Takes Courage to seek for a better way of life, and to adjust and do what is necessary to survive. And then to thrive afterwards, is a courageous miracle, thus inspiring the title of the book.
In addition, a photographer donated her time to teach the women how to photograph their own work, and each other—making the cookbook a collection of images of the cooks, their food, their essay and flavours that the women constructed themselves. The book is well and truly all heart and soul.
And the recipes? As my husband said, “Our children now like white bread, chocolate, Happy Meals, and Sudanese-Ethiopian food. Who knew?” Indeed, the food selections — although I have not tasted all– the ones I have are divinely delicious for the whole family. Not only that, they are beautiful such as Vietnamese Coconut Fruit Jelly (pictured), heartily filling, such as Shuly (Persian Soup) (with my favourite— lentils!) , and sacred, because it reminds us of how lucky we are. Such as Ceylonese Fish Curry, wherein the contributor tells us:
“This is my favourite dish. We would buy fish from the seaside. We weren’t allowed to fish ourselves because of the caste problem. I don’t like the caste system, it’s not fair…”
The feminist underpinnings, the love of food and family, and the heart and soul of this book make it a item that fills your soul and your belly. In the end, this is a local cookbook—because it is made by a group of women who all met and share within a new home, and yet, the essay contributions and flavours reflect a miraculous global collection that only God’s hands could shape. It is a visually, emotionally and socially stunning cookbook that you will not regret owing. It can be purchased through the It Takes Courage book website.
This sounds wonderful!